The "Survivor" logo explains exactly what one needs to do to win the game: outwit, outplay, and outlast.
This season, the person who outplayed everyone was Terry. He won five of the seven individual immunity challenges, usually claiming the necklace after a decisive victory. From day one, he played aggressively. During the final reward challenge, Terry came from behind to beat Aras, and while it was breathtakingly close, he still won.
Cirie, the mother who admitted she spent most of her life on the couch watching shows like "Survivor," clearly outwitted everyone else. She played the best game socially, as Shane admitted during the reunion. Cirie befriended everyone — including viewers, who loved her often sarcastic take on the game. She seemed unassuming; after all, she was the person who started the show by telling everyone that she didn't even like leaves. But she quickly proved to her tribemates and to herself that she was more than capable.
While she narrowly avoided being voted off early in the game, she spent most of her time on the island without the threat of elimination. More significantly, she helped keep her tribe-based alliance together against all odds, even while it had turned against its own members. Working quietly (at least from the vantage point of viewers) behind the scenes, she noticed when members of her tribe were making plans to betray their own, and targeted them, often surprising them at Tribal Council. Cirie lost, too.
Yoga instructor Aras began his time on the island by having his tribemates in the younger men tribe hold their hands in a stack to generate some kind of energy. He was weird but kind, talking warmly about everyone else, and always looking for the positive in every situation. He took a leadership role and forged ahead.
When his position of power was threatened, however, Aras dropped the pretense and became quite a jerk. After beating Terry for the first time at an immunity challenge, Aras made a disparaging, unfounded remark about Terry's treatment of women.
Later, after Danielle won the last immunity challenge, she had to choose to vote off either Terry or Aras. While Terry admitted to her that she was in a tough position, Aras didn't take that approach. Instead, as Danielle said, "he's basically threatening me." He told her that he'd "feel so burned" if she betrayed him, and promised that she'd lose his vote and Cirie's. His strategy apparently worked, as she took him with her to the final two.
But at the final Tribal Council, he had to face some hostile jury members. One of those was Shane, who said that Aras "lied" and "cheated," and said while Aras is "a good kid, ... we cannot judge people based on their intentions." If that wasn't enough, he pointed out to Aras, "you are broke, you are homeless, and you freeload off your dad." Yet Aras won.
Outlasted, but didn't outwit or outplayHow is this possible? Aras may have outlasted, but he didn't seem to outwit or outplay, at least not as much as Cirie or Terry.
Arguably, he wasn't even as much of a player as Danielle, who made a few moves when she needed to, and then coasted the rest of the time.
The strangest part is that Aras really managed to irritate a bunch of people. His calm exterior and introspective, reflective comments made him seem rational and kind. But when it came time to push and shove, Aras shoved first, and hard.
A lot of his behavior seemed to be derived out of frustration; Terry was constantly beating him at challenges, and Aras knew that he was Terry's number-one enemy. If the hidden immunity idol had come into play, Aras probably would have been its victim.
Ironically, that's the same kind of frustration Terry felt; his tribe was in the minority after the merge, and although he was able to protect himself with both the hidden immunity idol and a number of individual immunity challenge wins, he knew that it was only a matter of time before the tribe would come after him. Just like Aras did, Terry let the pressure affect him, becoming patronizing and rude especially during his last few days on the island.
Terry ultimately voted for Aras, however, admitting during his jury questioning that he thought performance in challenges was more important than anything else. Clearly, Terry enjoyed having some competition, and thus Terry gave Aras his vote to win.
Immediately after he won the final reward challenge, Terry told Aras, "you are the ultimate competitor, ultimate."
Cirie was quite the competitor, too; she just couldn't build a fire fast enough to stay in the game. And ultimately, she was the indirect victim of the hidden immunity idol. Terry didn't play it, but she and Aras voted for Danielle anticipating that Terry could play the hidden immunity idol and thus vote Cirie out. As a result, Danielle allied with Terry, and forced a tiebreaker that wouldn't have happened had Terry not had the idol.
Terry was by far the most physically dominant player this season, but he came in third, in no small part because he lost the final immunity challenge, which involved balancing on a floating lily pad. He fell off first and basically handed the game to his competitors, and thus came in third place.
On some level, Terry and Cirie were both victims of their own success, as was Danielle, who coasted through much of the game and thus had no chance in front of the jury. During the reunion, Jeff Probst took a quick poll and discovered that, had Danielle taken Terry to the final two, she would have lost against him, too. Her betrayal of Courtney and lack of strong game play throughout most of the season didn't win over the jury members.
What really matters, then, is not the ability to perform consistently through all 39 days, nor to make everyone happy, nor to just make it to the end. Instead, to win "Survivor," you must outlast everyone else, positioned so that when everyone else falls, they fall around you, not on top of you. That's exactly what Aras did, and that's why today, he's $1 million richer.
is a writer and teacher who publishes reality blurred, a daily summary of reality TV news.